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Guns and butter

Books | Economic freedom and the entanglements of war

Issue: "Drawing the Line," Feb. 22, 1997

Ten years ago people still believed that socialism could work. Thus, Western governments continued to toss enormous amounts of aid money at the most corrupt, statist, and thuggish regimes on earth.

Today, of course, everyone, including aid agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, knows that freedom is what delivers prosperity. Making the case for capitalism is the 1997 Index of Economic Freedom. It uses 10 measures of economic liberty to evaluate every country and finds that, in general, nations with freer economies grow faster. Foreign aid does not, in contrast, help promote economic growth. The authors warn that foreign assistance is a crutch that &quotwill hinder the economic development process by prolonging the implementation of needed reforms." Members of Congress obviously should read this book.

Another important volume is The Failure of America's Foreign Wars. The book's several essayists are patriots, but they criticize the U.S. government's tendency to needlessly go to war. For instance, historian Ralph Raico describes how America's transformation into an imperial power culminated in its involvement in World War I, a slugfest in which America had no interest, and which planted the seeds for the worst conflict in human history barely a generation later. The book is guaranteed to make its readers really think about American history.

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One of America's least popular foreign wars was in Korea. Although that conflict ended 44 years ago, American troops still remain at risk on the Korean peninsula. A fine review of the Korean people's difficult century comes from Bruce Cumings of Northwestern University. Although a man of the left, he's produced an interesting and readable history that helps explain America's involvement in that distant conflict.

Of course, for the United States the Korean War was child's play compared to the Civil War. One of the most important figures in that conflict was William Henry Seward, the former U.S. senator who was the GOP frontrunner for president before being outmaneuvered by Abraham Lincoln. Appointed Secretary of State, Mr. Seward served President Lincoln faithfully, and his work continued after the latter's assassination. It was Mr. Seward, for instance, who negotiated the acquisition of Alaska from Russia. Mr. Seward's complicated life is admirably captured by historian John Taylor, who earlier penned a biography of Confederate naval captain Raphael Semmes.

Also published by Brassey's are two volumes on the uniforms of the contending forces during what some of us like to call the War of Northern Aggression. This is the sort of reading material that is essential for the true Civil War buff.

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